Taste and smell complaints in HIVinfected patients

Heald, Alison E.1,4; Pieper, Carl F.2; Schiffman, Susan S.3


Objectives: To define the scope of taste and smell (chemosensory) complaints amongst HIV-infected persons in the study population; to evaluate the clinical factors associated with chemosensory complaints; and to determine the impact of chemosensory complaints on quality of life.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Tertiary care university medical center clinic.

Participants: A total of 207 HIV-infected patients.

Main outcome measures: Chemosensory complaint score from taste and smell questionnaire and quality of life scores from the Medical Outcomes Study HIV Health Survey (MOS-HIV).

Results: A total of 144 patients (70%) reported chemosensory complaints, 91 (44%) reported both taste and smell complaints, 47 (23%) reported only taste complaints, and six (3%) reported only smell complaints. Many patients complained that drugs interfered with their sense of taste, or that medications tasted bad. Higher chemosensory complaint scores were associated with a greater number of medications taken, tobacco use, and hay fever. Patients with chemosensory complaints had significantly lower scores in all domains of the MOS-HIV than those without complaints. Quality of life as measured by the MOS-HIV was lower in patients with chemosensory complaints even after controlling for number of AIDS diagnoses, number of medications, CD4 cell count, and HIV-1 viral load.

Conclusions: Chemosensory complaints were common in the patient population and were associated with a poor quality of life. Medications played an important role in chemosensory complaints. Measures to optimize taste and smell function may improve quality of life and medication adherence, and prevent complications such as inadequate oral intake, malnutrition, weight loss, and ultimately wasting.

1Departments of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA

2Biometry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA

3Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA.

4Requests for reprints to: Dr Alison E. Heald, Box 3284, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.

Sponsorship: Supported in part by grant 1R01 DC 02921–01 from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Diseases.

Date of receipt: 26 February 1998; revised: 13 May 1998; accepted: 19 May 1998.

© 1998 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.